New Delhi: Nationwide protests against the allegedly communal and “unconstitutional” Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have continued unabated for nearly a month now. But senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh believes these protests will achieve little and will play into the hands of the ruling BJP.
“It’s in the BJP’s interest to keep the CAA protests going. They will turn it into a Hindu-Muslim issue… They will reduce everything to an issue of Hindus and Muslims,” Ramesh said in an interview to ThePrint.
The protests in Uttar Pradesh have already started to benefit the BJP government in the state, he said.
“There is a potential for a backlash as the BJP is making it a communal issue. UP is a classic example of how it has given Yogi (Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath) a lifeline,” Ramesh said. “Yogi has used it as issue to project himself as a protector of Hindu rights. We also don’t hear about the 200-odd BJP MLAs who were revolting against the CM.”
In the interview, Ramesh spoke in detail about the CAA protests, fears over the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Congress’ stand over it, the party’s loss in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and its plans for the upcoming assembly polls.
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Fight against NRC
The former Union environment minister said there was no point protesting against the CAA, even as he stated the Congress’ strident opposition to the NRC.
“Our protests are stronger against the NRC… The CAA is an established fact; it is an Act of Parliament. The NRC is an executive decision. We have a greater probability of stopping the NRC legally and constitutionally,” said Jairam Ramesh.
While the CAA is essentially an amendment to a 1955 Act, the proposed nationwide NRC could require people to prove citizenship. The Modi government hasn’t given a date to carry out the exercise, though it has said in the past NRC will be conducted across the country.
“The CAA can only be undone by Parliament, which cannot happen for the next four years or it can be struck down by the courts, which is what we are hoping (for),” he added.
Congress chief ministers, among others, have said they won’t implement CAA in their respective states. But the legality of such a move remains in doubt, according to Ramesh. He added that the resolution passed by the Kerala government against CAA has an enormous political significance.
However, Ramesh maintained that the CAA is unconstitutional. “The CAA fundamentally rewrites the Constitution… It violates the basic structure of the Constitution.”
The amendment will provide citizenship to six non-Muslim communities who have come to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 31 December 2014.
Ramesh said the fight against the NRC is important as it affects all sections of society. “The NRC persecutes everybody… I know Hindus who don’t have documents. Look at Assam. Nearly 80 per cent of those left out are Bengali Hindus, Gurkhas. The NRC persecutes the poor, the vulnerable and migrants.”
Nearly 19 lakh people were left out of the final NRC draft in Assam in a Supreme Court-mandated exercise.
‘Congress should assess 2019 loss’
On the state of the Congress, Jairam Ramesh said his party should “brutally introspect” its 2019 Lok Sabha election loss — it won 52 seats, eight better than its 2014 tally.
“There has been no institutional post-mortem to figure out what went wrong in the 2019 elections,” Ramesh said. “Then Congress president Rahul Gandhi took moral responsibility and resigned, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t do a post mortem.”
The Congress leader added, “Rahul’s resignation was a great sacrifice but it is no substitute for dispassionate introspective analysis. We should do it now while memories are fresh and not assume that state-level verdicts will be reflected in the national elections in 2024.”
Ramesh added that there will be no dearth of issues for the party to take on the Modi government, but that would require some fundamental changes.
“In the last two years, the BJP has lost ground in at least eight states. But we need to empower state leadership and create avenues of advancement of people irrespective of family backgrounds,” he said.
“The important thing is to get states moving right now, our national recovery in 2004 also came after we took a number of states.”
According to Ramesh, no single individual can revive the Congress.
“No single individual is a magic wand. I think Rahul Gandhi has also said this, Sonia Gandhi has said it repeatedly… We must realise Indian politics has changed, society has changed and the nature of political competition has changed. Only a gigantic collective effort will help revive the party,” said Ramesh.
The former Union minister said the Congress has to be “far more proactive in our communication”.
“We have to talk in a language people can relate to and have to constantly communicate not episodically. We also have to be mindful how (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and (Home Minister Amit) Shah and his cohorts will respond and have to be a step ahead of them.”
Ramesh, however, countered charges that the party was in a state of paralysis.
“This is a government that is on the defensive. So it is wrong to say that the Congress is not cornering the Modi government on various issues,” he said.
“On CAA, we voted against it as opposed to three years ago, when we walked out. There was greater clarity this time. We made our point in Parliament and have now approached the Supreme Court against the legislation.”
Jairam Ramesh said the Congress was also making progress in its bid to challenge the Modi-Shah duo in 2024.
“Our party is getting there. We formed the government with some difficulty in Maharashtra. We were the co-pilot in the handsome victory in Jharkhand. We have Delhi, Bihar and West Bengal. So we have our work cut out for ourselves,” he said.
He singled out the party’s performance in Haryana last year as one of its better performances.
“We certainly put up a hugely creditable show in Haryana considering the time (former CM Bhupinder Singh) Hooda and (state Congress president Kumari) Selja were given… Our electoral performance in Maharashtra was disappointing but thanks to Sharad Pawar and the BJP-Shiv Sena divorce, we were able to form the government.”
“Our performance in Jharkhand was very good although the campaign was led by the JMM… We won 16 of 31 seats which is a good conversion rate. The alliance raised local issues so even the campaign of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister made no difference,” added Ramesh.
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